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R&A & USGA look set to clash with golf’s big equipment brands

There is a storm brewing. 

Today the R&A and USGA released a Statement of Conclusions from its Distance Insights Project, and, for the likes of Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway, etc, there could be some heated debates on the horizon with golf’s governing bodies.

The long and short of the report is that “it is time to break the cycle of increasingly longer hitting distances and golf courses”. With that statement, the golf equipment industry is well and truly in the crosshairs.

• R&A and USGA outline plan to fix "undesirable" distance issue

Distance is the big seller when it comes to new kit. It’s the thing we all want more and more of.

You just have to look at the recent big driver releases to see how important increasing distance and being able to wax lyrical about it is for the game’s biggest brands. It is one of the driving forces behind their ability to make sales and turn a profit.

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So, news that the R&A and USGA plan to review conformance specifications for both clubs and balls and potentially place new limits to “help mitigate the continuing distance increases” will likely come as a blow to the industry’s behemoths.

The move throws up the question of whether future driver releases will hit a ceiling in terms of distance gains. So, at some point, could your driver only go as far as the ruling bodies will allow?

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This potential outcome of today’s revelations could have massive repercussions for the big brands. They will have to invest significantly in new methods of Research and Development in order to find new ways of generating greater performance and distance.

Potentially turning R&D on its head to focus solely on forgiveness and accuracy could also result in a giant shift in golf club and ball marketing, and a harder sell. That won’t sit well.

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There is also a widely held view from the big brands that limiting distance or rolling it back ‘would be a terrible thing for recreational golfers.'

Most golfers don’t need to hit the ball shorter. They need as much help and distance as possible. Surely the game is difficult enough as it is and we should be trying to make it more accessible and easier for the masses.

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One takeaway from the report is that, thankfully, rolling back distance doesn't seem to be an objective.

Any changes to conforming rules are not currently intended to “produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game”, so we’re not going back to wooden clubheads and wound golf balls.

Where we are going is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be backwards. And it won’t be easy.


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